Federal-state agreement to return water to Murray-Darling Basin

The Rudd Government will issue a new tender next month to buyback water from the Queensland section of the drought stricken Murray-Darling Basin.

The announcement was made today by Federal Minister for Climate Change and Water, Senator Penny Wong. The tender is the first phase of the government’s $350 million commitment to purchase Queensland water and return it to the rivers, Senator Wong said.

“What we have announced today is an intention to issue an open tender to purchase more water for the Murray-Darling basin. Next month we will issue an open tender to purchase water in Queensland,” Senator Wong said.

“We are seriously up against it in the Murray-Darling Basin. When we were elected to government, the two years to November 2007 were the lowest inflows in the River Murray on record. They were 43 per cent lower than the previous lows.”

The Government has taken action by establishing an “historic agreement” with the states and territories to manage the Murray-Darling basin, Senator Wong added.

“We have established the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, which will for the first time establish a basin-wide plan and basin-wide cap based on science. This is the first time this will happen in the nation’s history.”

The government, however, will not wait for such plans to come into force. In the interim, it will purchase water entitlements.

“There are no easy solutions in the Murray-Darling. What the government is doing is to act both in short term and the long term to improve the health of the basin,” Senator Wong said.

The announcement followed a scathing report in The Australian detailing how the federal government’s $50 million water buyback would return less than 10 megalitres of water to the Murray River this year.

According to the Rudd Government, the announced tender is not a knee-jerk reaction to the report, but rather a step towards fulfilling its election and budget promises.

“This is what the government said it would do before the election,” Senator Wong said.

“During the budget we announced our $9 billion investment in water which included over $3 billion in water purchases. We are simply rolling out the water purchase program as we were elected to do and as we were committed to do prior to the election.”

Senator Wong said the new tender process would be informed by Stakeholder Consultative Committee feedback. The Minister has written to NSW and Queensland Governments, advising them to put in place appropriate administrative arrangements.

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